UKBA visa regulations cause chaos in Scotland’s universities

Hannah McNeill

Changes to student visa restrictions for the UK has caused uproar throughout the education sector, particularly in Scotland, as they will significantly reduce the number of international students universities are allowed to recruit.

The drop in international students is considered to be “the biggest cause of concern” by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI). They believe these tighter restrictions will result in Scottish universities becoming a less favourable choice for international students.

The Scottish Conservative Party acknowledges some difficulties within the system with regards to SCDI concerns. A spokesperson for the Party said: “There is still more to be done to create the right balance between preventing situations where fake ‘students’ have been enrolled only to abscond from the terms of their visas and ensuring our universities can employ the very best students and staff from around the world.”

The changes include preventing international students from bringing their dependants with them (unless they are partaking in a postgraduate degree for longer than twelve months) and creating more “selective” requirements for those students who may wish to remain in the UK after the completion of their degree. Proof of a starting salary of over £20,000 from a licensed employer must be provided.

In addition, international students must also be tested to prove an at least intermediate knowledge of English, both written and spoken, at a cost of £125 per test. This is also now a necessity condition for all current international students.

There are currently just over 3000 students attending the University of Glasgow on visas and hence are affected by these new regulations. Universities and other higher education institutions are expected to carry out regular checks on their international students, as well as any prospective students.

Glasgow University has had to work closely with the UK border agency in light of these new regulations. A spokesperson made clear that these new regulations were being followed and ensuring “that all visa requirements are adhered to, including the recording of necessary documents, monitoring of attendance, and ensuring that students are properly engaged with their studies.” All lectures and tutorials now have a sign-in sheet.

If an institution fails to monitor their international students, the UK Border Agency retain the right to suspend the “sponsor” rights of any university. This would make the position of international students at Scottish universities insecure as well as impacting upon university budgets, a significant proportion of which many Scottish universities receive from international students who pay up to £18,000 per year.

In 2011, Glasgow Caledonian University had their licence to sponsor students on Tier 4 visa suspended by the UKBA. This was after students attending their BSc Nursing course were discovered to be working nearly full-time on work placements. The UKBA does not distinguish between learning in a work-based environment, as is the case for BSc Nursing, and working to support oneself. However after Glasgow Caledonian addressed UKBA concerns, the license was fully restored.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine has written to Mark Harper, Minister of Immigration at Westminster, to discuss these issues. In a statement she said: “Scotland’s universities are responsible for 12.4% of UK research, punching well above our population share. That achievement has in part been made possible thanks to the contribution of international students in Scotland’s universities and it is essential that Westminster’s approach does not stifle the sector.”

The SNP regard these restrictions as another incentive to vote for Scottish independence. Ms McAlpine went on to say: “the only way we can ensure that Scotland has an appropriate visa system that does not disadvantage our universities is for these decisions to be made by an independent Scotland.”

A report released by the UK home office estimates losses of up to £3.5 billion for the UK economy due to these student visa restrictions. Benefits resulting from these restrictions are expected to total just £1.1 billion due to reduced processing cost and reduced cost on public services.